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Worthless qualifications at state schools

(426 Posts)
Judy1234 Sat 23-Jan-10 21:14:26

Wise words.
Pick solid GCSEs in proper subjects - take a language, take English lit and lang, take maths, geography, history and 2 or 3 proper sciences and get just 8 or 9 in traditional subjects with good grades.

"The headmaster of Harrow has accused many state schools of deceiving children by entering them for “worthless” qualifications. Barnaby Lenon said that grade inflation and a shift to vocational qualifications was masking a failure to teach enough pupils to a good standard.

“Let us not deceive our children, and especially children from poorer homes, with worthless qualifications so that they become like the citizens of Weimar Germany or Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, carrying their certificates around in a wheelbarrow,” he told a conference.

“[Let’s not] produce people like those girls in the first round of The X Factor who tell us they want to be the next Britney Spears but can’t sing a note.”

He cited media studies as an example of a soft subject, for which many schools were keen to enter students because it was easier for them to get a good grade. The real route to a good job in one of the professions, he said, was good grades in traditional academic subjects such as maths, sciences and languages."

sarah293 Sun 24-Jan-10 09:32:04

Message withdrawn

loungelizard Sun 24-Jan-10 09:34:04

It would be much more helpful if it were a state school head pointing it out rather than the head of Harrow.

He is right, of course.

However, there is a place for non academic subjects but not for those who wish to study an academic course at a top university. The problem is by the time some children have decided what they want to study, they have already inadervently ruled themselves out of even applying for some courses because they have been encouraged to take soft options for GCSEs. It's quite wicked really, the double standards that go on.

Those in the private sector have already been drilled as to which subjects are acceptable, thus they are all in a much better position to apply for the most academic courses at the best universities and thus take up many more places. Ho hum.

pointydug Sun 24-Jan-10 09:36:48

And I have great sympathy for mfl teachers. Not only was it dropped as a compulsory subject a few years back, but now there is a lot of talk about teaching pupils little tasters of a variety of languages for four years (starting in primary) before they then choose the easiest. I am not aware of any evidence to back up this theory.

Caoimhe Sun 24-Jan-10 09:41:29

My secondary school (girls' Catholic Comprehensive) didn't even have a Physics teacher - if you wanted to do Physics the school had to arrange for you to join classes in a local boys' school. Extraordinary!

Peachy Sun 24-Jan-10 10:02:41

Whilst I do agree with Xenia I would point out that unless you are seeking a clear Oxbridge type education (and most cannot through both ability and basic number of places ) then there are always plenty of chances in life to change things. RG Unis now take Access, degrees can be taken at any age and there are differing pathways.

Creativity is a skill that can get you most things in life, if you apply it well. Dodgy GCSE's + A-Levels + good Access + easy (comparatively) to get into degree where Professor is well regarded by colleagues = MA led by Prof who respects former Prof's judgement on ability. Result.

Convoluted yes, but decisions made at 16 do not need to determine a life.

littlerach Sun 24-Jan-10 10:12:42

But isn't much of this ot do with the emphasis on individual timetables and curriculums?

In my (V V limited) experience of this, schools want ot be seen as offering whatever studnets want (or their parents). And paremts don't awlways listen to staff wink

But, yes, I do agree with OP.

DecorHate Sun 24-Jan-10 10:23:06

That happened to me too Caoimhe - mainly because only a few girls would want to do physics so they couldn't justify hiring a teacher (but this was in the dark ages!)

chosenone Sun 24-Jan-10 10:24:04

This is an interesting debate, although the Times artcle does come across as snobby and elitist. In the school I teach in I have been co erced by management to offer a B tec option of my subject alongside a GCSE. I find the B tec particularly dumbed down, lots of producing mind maps and collages hmm I wasn't taken with the syllabus at all but still had to sell it on our 'option evening'. At least our students have a choice between a GCSE or a Btec in my subject and in others too. I certainly don't agree with schools dropping the GCSE in favour of the BTec because 'everyone passes, if not they do the portfolio' again!

I am in a higher than average school but still we have a number of lower ability students who are going to be more suitable for vocational and practical jobs, it makes sense that they do courses that suit their needs. However, the mix at the moment doesn't seem right, how many hairdressers and beauticians do we really need? Surely we need to spend more time ensuring these students are numerate and literate?? Equally these lower than average students shouldn't be forced to do MFL GCSE and study Shakespeare in English Lit, they need that time for key skills.

I am also watching the launch of new diplomas with interest as the govt have thrown a lot of money at these, they sound like a good idea, and are being heavily sold but only small numbers are taking up the Engineering and creative media ones in our area

Judy1234 Sun 24-Jan-10 10:57:56

My only point really is about deception to children in bad schools about what many employers want. In fact as we all know Harrow was for the thick and Eton the clever, although Harrow has academically got itself into the top 50 again I think if not higher. It's certainly relatively comprehensive compared with some private schools.

It was his analogy here which reminded me of things I hear of friends with children in some state schools:-

“Let us not deceive our children, and especially children from poorer homes, with worthless qualifications so that they become like the citizens of Weimar Germany or Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, carrying their certificates around in a wheelbarrow,” he told a conference.

“[Let’s not] produce people like those girls in the first round of The X Factor who tell us they want to be the next Britney Spears but can’t sing a note.”

And the barrister girl from the poor area and bad school saying no discrimination once she was at university at all or beyond but her state schools saying girls - hairdressers, boys labourers and if you want something poncy it's not for the likes of you because you're not posh and no way could you go to a good university and read law, not for the likes of you or left wing teachers saying you wouldn't fit in at Oxbridge because you're very different and it's morally wrong and letting your class down to go kind of ideas. We want all those routed out.

So what about the lazy and not bright children of which there are many in all educational sectors? You want to force the lazy ones to work (and what's all this above about giving parents and pupils subjects they want -what a load of rubbish - most pupils and parents have no idea what is right for them - you want to tell them where to stick their XYZ subject and give them subjects that are sensible or the country needs - nothing to stop them studying other subjects themselves at home which I very often did from library books. I even taught myself GCSE music when I was 15 - none of that is very hard if you're reasonably self starting).

claig Sun 24-Jan-10 11:39:18

“If we want the brightest children from our poorest homes to fulfil their potential we must not deceive them with high grades in soft subjects or allow them to believe that going to any old uni to read any subject is going to be the path to prosperity, because it is not.”

For this reason independent schools had deliberately adopted harder qualifications such as the IGCSE, International Baccalaureate and Pre-U, he said."

He is concentrating on "soft" subjects, but I feel he is being a bit disingenuous, the problem is just as much "high grades in hard subjects", grade inflation is happening across the entire curriculum, with the number of children achieving 'A' grades in "hard" subjects rocketing to heights that were unheard of 20 or 30 years ago.

This is the reason many of the independent schools are adopting IGCSE, Pre-U etc., these will be for the "hard" subjects such as maths. I doubt many private schools will bother with IGCSE and Pre-U for what he describes as the "soft" subjects like media studies.

claig Sun 24-Jan-10 12:05:49

Riven mentioned in another thread that her son's physics teacher of 20 years experience was almost in tears at how they had dumbed down the physics syllabus. The downgrading of MFL in importance is also shocking. These are the real things that will harm the future of the country. The head should concentrate on the real problem of standards rather than taking easy potshots at the "soft" subjects.

sarah293 Sun 24-Jan-10 12:08:19

Message withdrawn

claig Sun 24-Jan-10 12:15:31

modern foreign languages, sorry smile

Wastwinsetandpearls Sun 24-Jan-10 13:25:22

Claig I do think that some of the new syallabuses have dumbed down. In my subject our new GCSE syllabus has IMO reduced the need for subject knowledge. Although I will clearly teach what is required to pass the exam I will carry on teaching a lot that goes above and beyond the syllabus so my top sets are challenged.

The changes reflect those made in the national curriculum, the exam seems to be beconming more skills based rather than knowledge based. I applaud the fact that they are pushing students to develop their evalutative skills. But the need for a detailed and comprehensive subject knowledge needs to be there as well. Otherwise I may as well spend two years considering the merits of Big Brother against X Factor.

t does make me worry about A Level as well, by simplifying the GCSE content it makes the leap from one to other even greater. Are there plans ahead to simplify that as well?

claig Sun 24-Jan-10 14:10:17

"Otherwise I may as well spend two years considering the merits of Big Brother against X Factor"

I fear the above may soon become degree level, so you may need to start considering setting your sights lower than that wink

MrsMattie Sun 24-Jan-10 14:11:33

Totally agree with Peachy. My sister was a 'school refuser' and dropped out of school with no GCSEs, despite being very bright.

She did an Access at the age of 25, got into King's for her undergraduate degree, did her Masters at UCL and has now got her 'dream job' and is going to do her PHD.

This idea that if you don't get 10 GCSE A grades in 'hard subjects' at the age of 16 means you're fucked for life is preposterous!

pointydug Sun 24-Jan-10 14:11:56

I am also concerned about the devaluing of knowledge in favour of skills. There should be an agreed body of knowledge which children and young people are taught in able to then allow them to apply the skills most effectively.

Wastwinsetandpearls Sun 24-Jan-10 14:34:47

grin claig.

I don't think your life is fucked if you don't get 10 "hard" GCSEs but surely schools should be doing all they can to help students.

I had a rant at my last subject meeting on this very topic.

Merrylegs Sun 24-Jan-10 14:47:30

I think also 'young people' these days have to be careful about thinking they will automatically get in to the 'good' unis just by dint of A*s in 'hard' subjects.

As has been pointed out here already, more kids are achieving marks that would have been unheard of 20 years ago.

It is about the bigger picture now.

You can't automatically assume you will get into Oxford, say to read medicine if you have fab A level results, unless you have also done relevant and extensive work experience.

(Eton don't just take the 'clever' kids. They want you to have another string to your bow - fluent in other languages for eg, or virtuoso musician.)

Wastwinsetandpearls Sun 24-Jan-10 15:18:45

I totally agree Merry and am always saying this to my students.

Even in my day(sigh) that was the case.

butadream Sun 24-Jan-10 15:55:41

merrylegs - or like being a member of a royal family, for instance!

Actually thinking about this I can see the problem about subject choice is greater than it had seemed to me before - although it seems obvious on mn that "media studies" might be seen as a soft choice, it is not going to be obvious to an uninformed 16 year old that if they want to be a solicitor that an A level in Law is not going to help them, or if they want to join a business graduate scheme at Unilever or similar that A Level Business Studies is bog all use.

Wastwinsetandpearls Sun 24-Jan-10 16:47:22

Again I agree, I have a year 11 tutor group and teach a lot of KS4 groups. I have had a number of conversations with A* students from very educated supportive backgrounds about the fact that an A Level in Law is not necessary or perhaps even wise. One student who wants to be an actor wanted to take AS Drama andf the BTech option.

noddyholder Sun 24-Jan-10 16:52:59

My ds has done media studies and it has been intense!Makes films put together an ad campaign and endless work tbh.

Judy1234 Sun 24-Jan-10 16:54:21

"This idea that if you don't get 10 GCSE A grades in 'hard subjects' at the age of 16 means you're fucked for life is preposterous!"

You aren't for life but in general most who do badly continue to do so. The rare few who do badly and later pull themselves up are rare. In other words it's easier in life to do well earlier and harder to be a cleaner for 20 years and in your 40s become a brain surgeon.

A level law is a rubbish one which no decent private schools recommend and is completely unsuitable for potential lawyers. I hope state schools make that very clear.

claig Sun 24-Jan-10 17:29:11

noddyholder, <great name by the way, love Noddy myself, one of the best voices in the game>
good for your son, sounds like he had a great time and picked up some useful skills. As long as he also did his core maths, English etc. it will not harm him one bit.
The head of Harrow is deceiving people to imply that having some "soft" subjects will be worthless and make them unemployable.
A more likely problem is the whole grade inflation issue where all of the pieces of paper are being devalued in a Weimar-like fashion, not just "soft" subjects.

Even the much vaunted Sir Ken Robinson states :

"Suddenly degrees aren't worth anything. Isn't that true? When I was a student, if you had a degree, you had a job. If you didn't have a job it's because you didn't want one. And I didn't want one, frankly.

But now kids with degrees are often heading home to carry on playing video games, because you need an MA where the previous job required a BA, and now you need a PhD for the other. It's a process of academic inflation."

That is the tragedy, where pupils can slog their guts out studying for years and years only to find that grade inflation has eroded the value of what they have achieved.

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